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Abraham Benjamin de Villiers - Defining the AB and D of cricket

The customised ‘wall of fame’ is the only raison d’être of my existence in an otherwise nondescript and dingy hostel room. Made up of carefully torn Sportstar posters that I managed to sneak in from the hostel common room, the assortment boasts of Sachin kissing the World Cup, Alonso atop his mean machine, Graeme Smith with the Test championship mace et al. And in the midst of this league of extraordinary gentlemen (and a pretty lady in Azarenka holding aloft the 2013 Australian Open Trophy) stands a marauding de Villiers, ‘the man with the magic willow’.

Bursting onto the international arena at a relatively tender age of 20, he has carved out a niche for himself that few others could have dreamed of. Speaking of dreaming, I remember reading an article quite some time back on AB on how he dreamed of being the world’s best batsman. Nine years after he first made an appearance in SA colours, he is third in their list of current Test batsmen. And as far as the best one-day batsman goes, the answer is shorter than ABC.

It would be no exaggeration if one was to say that he is the most versatile cricketer in the modern era, if not in the game’s history. He bats at any random position, can roll his arm over, keeps wickets and is probably the best outfielder in the world at the moment, with regular comparisons drawn with Jonty Rhodes himself. That apart, he also plays tennis, rugby and golf; not bad at all for someone who has been among the world’s best batsmen for some years now. Plus he dabbles in music as well. Maybe if they handed out HR jobs in cricket, AB would be the top catch.

Supreme in defence and outrageous in his shot-making, the man dons quite a large number of hats. There are days when he is made to bat for four hours in an uncharacteristic way to save a Test match, and in the very next fixture, he scores a rapid fire 169 to pave the way for a famous win.

Consistency, gained over perseverance, is a defining characteristic for this rock-star. It is virtually impossible to recount a phase in his career when he was tagged out-of-form apart from the 2006-07 season. That’s much like our own Dhoni, only classier.

Many felt he would go the Gibbs-way, a rare talent who was satisfied with lesser and disproportionate success. He was identified as someone who was limitless in prowess, and was destined to roam uncharted territory. Breaking the Gibbs-mould, he set himself apart. His rise as one of South Africa’s most prominent players bears testimony to this fact.

“I want to be the best, but I don’t give a damn about statistics. You will have your end goal in mind, but you have to work hard to get there; ball by ball, innings by innings.”

As an alluding remark, he averages just over 50 in both Tests and ODIs. That’s consistency, probably second to only Amla.

But it is his outrageous and mind-boggling ability to pick up the length early and execute previously unseen strokes that have endeared him to his legion of fans. McCullum is close, but bring in consistency and no one beats AB. After all, not everyone can spank a Steyn delivery over mid-wicket, or drive him off a yorker over extra cover for six. And you just don’t reverse sweep fast bowlers for sixes.

One would be forced to believe that there is a touch of arrogance and rashness imbibed with such attempts at shot-making, but no, not in his case. His is the case of a naturally talented athlete with surplus blessings bestowed upon him. As they say is the case with Sachin, AB has this god-gifted ability, polished and reworked over and over again with a headstrong work ethic.

As far as the IPL goes, almost all of RCB’s batsmen have been forced to operate furtively under the gargantuan presence of the belligerent Gayle-force. But nothing can undermine the value that AB brings to the team. Last night was a perfect case study. Battling a Gayle no-show and an average score in sight, he unleashed a fury of strokes that would have left even Gayle gasping, belting 26 off Dinda’s last over. It was nothing short of a contemptuous mocking of the hapless bowler without the perpetrator having any ill will, for how often do you see fast bowlers being swept off one knee?

“He’s developing a new MCC manual of his own,” is what Amla had to say of AB’s stroke making. For now, it is quite evident that ABD is rewriting C for Cricket.

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